Leviticus seemed to me to be an obscure book, meant only for the Jewish audience for whom the rules were a way of life. Then I met Jacob Milgrom, a professor at Hebrew University. He lectured in the downstairs bunker that belonged to Albert Einstein on the Mount Scopus campus to a group of college students from California. Worn out from our explorations of the rabbinical tunnels, I expected the weariness to increase because the topic of the day was Leviticus. Instead, Professor Milgrom lectured long past his ninety minutes, and still, the students did not want him to leave.
The first big truth to hit me about the complicated system of rituals and sacrifices in Leviticus is that the sin does not rest on the people. Instead, it lands in the Tabernacle. All of the ritual sacrifices exist not to cleanse the people, but to cleanse the Tabernacle. Not only do the sins of the people pollute the Tabernacle, but different kinds of sin pollute different parts of the Tabernacle. This leads to the second big truth.
Enough sin and the presence of the Lord would be driven from the people and their place of worship.
God would only tolerate so much defilement.
Three major types of sin exist in Leviticus and the areas they defile in the Tabernacle represent for the believer a real warning. But before I discuss that, let me explain exactly what this looks like. At the end of this blog, I include a link to Jacob Milgrom’s outline of this, though I recommend buying his book if you want to really dig in.
Involuntary Individual Violation (Leviticus 4: 27-35)
This type of sin included events over which one could have little or no control, such as accidentally coming in contact with something unclean. This could also include disease. The purification sacrifice performed in the court of the Tabernacle was not to cleanse the supplicant.
These types of uncleanness were not moral issues on the part of the individuals, rather a result of living in a world where death and decay ran unchecked.
We too live in a world where we are exposed to a great many evils involuntarily. We deceive ourselves if we do not understand that simply our exposure to the advertising, fake news, and crummy entertainment does not affect us. In fact, these things are made with the express purpose of affecting us. No company would spend millions of dollars on advertising if it didn’t work. We drive to work and see an ad promising happiness if we buy it. Our response to this is involuntary. What we do with our response is not.
Involuntary Communal Violation (Leviticus 4:13-21)
In Leviticus, these sins are the involuntary sins of a community. For the ancient Israelites, because sins polluted the temple, all sins were in a sense communal. After all, sin defiled the house of God and caused the presence of the Lord to be diminished. Involuntary communal sin could be caused by events outside the control of the community. After all, if the army sheds blood while protecting the community, their uncleanness is not a moral issue, but still one that affects the whole community.
In Milgrom’s lecture, he included pollution of the environment as well as things of which a whole community bears corporate but not individual moral responsibility. For instance, I have never owned a slave, but as a member of a country which once had slavery, I, along with all Americans, bear the moral responsibility for the consequences.
I do not hold the moral guilt of owning a slave; I do own the moral responsibility along with all Americans for the abolishment of the institution and the racism from which slavery sprung.
Brazen and Unrepented Sin (Leviticus 16:11-19)
These sins, like adultery and murder, are direct moral violations perpetuated by individuals. These were by far the most serious and were dealt with by a blood sacrifice offered by the high priest once a year. These sins affected the very sanctuary of the Holy of Holies and represented the greatest threat to the presence of God. In these cases, the offenders cannot enter the Tabernacle, but the priests must make the sacrifice for them.
The lessons in Leviticus for the Christian become clear when one understands that 1. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and 2. Together, we are the Church, the bride of Christ. The three parts of the Tabernacle loosely correspond with Solomon’s temple. I think that looking at each as a blueprint of the believer, the idea of body, soul, and spirit corresponding with the court, the room, and the sanctuary where the ark was kept is one of the underlying metaphors.
The three types of sin, those of the body, soul, and spirit, have the same effect on believers as they did on that ancient Tabernacle in Leviticus.
As we expose ourselves to a world filled with deceit and violence, as we experience emotions as basic as lust or impatience, and as we defy God’s law by sinning against the Ten Commandments, we ourselves drive off the presence of God.
Milgrom likens the effect to that of the Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel by Oscar Wilde. Granted eternal youth, Dorian Gray’s portrait is the only thing that reveals the state of his depraved soul.
As the light is dimmed in us, the light begins to dim in the church as well. The church is yet another type of the temple of the Holy Spirit. As her members drift into pollution, God’s presence begins to leave the church. In our age of individuality, we often ignore the effects of our actions on each other.
No such thing as private sin exists. Sin may be kept secret for a while, but its inevitable influence will be clearly seen in our lackluster churches and violent society.
As Romans states, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” This truth gives us hope as we walk in light, allowing the light of Jesus Christ to expose our sin and the blood of Christ to cleanse it. However, we must walk in the knowledge that just as the actions of the ancient Israelite deeply affected his brethren, so too our actions, whether in the open or in secret, have profound influence in our family, our community, our church, and our nation.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us oursins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1: 6-10.
See below for a look at Jacob Milgrom’s book,
Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics : a Continental Commentary